October 11, 2013

OMG, e-mail really is dying!

Now, I always and consistently scorned people who are saying that email is dead, but I am seeing my own use of email change and decrease quite rapidly lately. I am even thinking of entirely removing all email from my mobile devices. But then I would miss quite a lot of conversations that occur via email, so I haven't done so yet. 

Conversations, that's the key word if you ask me. It is the main purpose of all social media. E-mail is quite bad at conversations, in spite of all the innovations done by, for example, Google. E-mail is not designed for conversations in the first place, and that's what is causing it's (slow) death. 

E-mail dates back to the 70's (if you're interested, you can read about the origins in this wikipedia article). The original idea of e-mail was to, well, mail a message to someone else electronicly (hence the 'e'). I got introduced to e-mail myself around 1994. In those days, the internet did not reach into people's homes yet, but ended at big organisations such as universities and research institutes. So you could only be sporadicly "online".

Of course, there was no twitter or facebook in those days. The clunky mobile phones were hardly capable of doing anything else than making phone calls. Hell, the World Wide Web - which we now lovingly call "the web"- had only been conceived just a few years before I got online. 

Nowadays, our beloved web has reached into our very pockets. You can be online all the time. The web has become a close and ever present companion. And it is very hard to think of life without it, although I do remember being able to function without it quite well. I managed to complete my entire education without it, can you imagine? However, in spite of those memories, I got addicted just as much as you do (oh come on, admit it).

What I came to depend on most of all, is the ability to easily reach other people. It is the first thing you start to miss when you are offline for more than a few days (or hours or even minutes, depending on your date of birth I guess). So being online means being in contact with other people on the web. 

E-mail has provided us with one of the first means to be in contact with other people. It became the defacto way of communication between people over the web. Until social media entered the stage and captured the audience. You could argue that e-mail is social media, but let's not. What we came to love about popular social media such as Twitter, Facebook and the relative new comer Whatsapp, is the ability to start and join in conversations.

Like I said above, e-mail is bad at conversations. I praise Google for rejuvenating e-mail by enhancing its conversation abilities, but it is still just e-mail that smartly groups your e-mails such a bunch of separate e-mails look like a conversation. 

In the first sentence of this post I said that my use of e-mail is changing. What I mean is that I am letting go of all those formalities that we use in e-mails. Especially when my mails are directed at people I know well. These are informal e-mails. In such e-mails I leave out the hi and the cheers, et cetera. I also omit my name altogether, because it is already obvious from my e-mail address. It is just too much trouble to keep typing them. If you receive such e-mails, don't feel insulted. The sender implicitely says hi, and 
implicitely says cheers.

By omiting all the formalities, my e-mails become very short. When sent from my phone, I even use lots of abbreviations as well. People around me do the same thing. The effect is that my inbox is littered with "conversations" that contain just one or two sentences. And the latest trend is to only use the subject-field of e-mails, and leave the e-mail-body entirely blank, which means that the smart grouping of e-mails such that they look like conversations won't work anymore.

Do you see my point already? For such interactions, we should not be using e-mail at all! Out of sheer habit, we keep using e-mail for something it is not designed for. I should stop using it for all informal communication, which is most communication. And that's the reason I am seriously thinking of removing e-mail from my devices. E-mail really is dying. Honestly, I would never have thought I would ever say it and believe it, but I really do.